Still a House Divided in Speaker's Race

Why can't Republicans get along?

There are fresh moves by Republicans to completely exclude Democrats from the selection of the Texas House speaker. However, it is unclear whether this is about shutting out the Democrats or attempting to unify a Republican caucus that has been in open revolt since the GOP's Nov. 2 election sweep.

On Dec. 21, speaker hopeful Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, announced his intent to file a letter with the House Republican Caucus leadership, demanding a caucus meeting before swearing-in day on Jan. 11 to select a consensus candidate for speaker. The caucus is currently divided among incumbent Speaker Joe Straus, establishment conservative Chisum, and tea party favorite Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, but supporters of both Chisum and Straus have signed the letter. Chisum said, "There are three Republican candidates for speaker now, and the Republican caucus is the appropriate place for us to narrow the field to one candidate."

Traditionally, the speaker is selected by an open bipartisan floor vote when the session starts, but a caucus meeting would allow the 101 Republican reps to present their choice as a fait accompli to the 49 Democrats. Anti-Straus Republicans considered this selection-by-caucus path before. On Nov. 15, the caucus leadership held an informal straw poll about whether they should meet to discuss the speaker race and whether members would willingly leave unified behind one selection. The results of the poll were never released, but were indicated by the fact that there was no caucus meeting. So why the change of heart? One Straus supporter who signed Chisum's letter, Rep. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon, said he had opposed the original caucus plan because it smacked of Washing­ton-style politics. But with the speaker race getting vitriolic and the session so close, he told Quorum Report, "We have to stop this nonsense." However, even if the caucus could summon a quorum of 51 members before the session starts, it would require a minimum of 67 votes to pass any binding action. That means if there are any no-shows or votes against a consensus candidate, it's back to square one.

The speaker selection process nearly wrecked the last two sessions. In 2007, Speaker Tom Craddick scuttled a challenge from Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxa­hachie, by denying the members a secret ballot. Fearful of Craddick's notorious wrath, several of Pitts' pledges jumped ship rather than publicly oppose the incumbent (see "In Search of a New Agenda," Jan. 12, 2007). However, the anti-Craddick forces were more organized in 2009, when Straus became speaker after a group of ranking Republicans nicknamed the "Gang of 11" joined with a block of Democrats dubbed the "ABCDs" – Anyone But Craddick Democrats (see "Looks Like a Straus Waltz to House Speaker," Jan. 9). When Straus finally announced he had enough pledges to take the gavel, it was with a bipartisan gathering under the dome – a far remove from this speaker race.

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